22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Every year, statistics tell us that there are more and more self-declared atheists and agnostics. And we certainly do not need to look hard to prove that there are fewer people who identify with the Church. While it is troubling for sure, today I am here to say that I do not blame them. Although these trends are a real threat to my job security, I do not blame these newly minted atheists and agnostics because the God most of these people, especially our young people, fail to believe in I don’t believe in either.
They see God as distant, far removed and uncaring of their cares and concerns. They see an angry God anxious and threatened by diversity; a God who will not be satisfied until we all conformed to one predetermined mold. The judging God they reject rejects others. And the God they reject I reject too because that God has nothing to do with the God of Jesus Christ.
How did this vision of God become so prevalent? How did so many presume that this is the nature of God? Well, there are forces in our media and society that contribute to this massive misunderstanding. Sometimes even the way we talk betrays it. Often enough, this God is a product more of our fears than our hopes; of our misgivings about our very nature than our trust in our beauty.
Yet, we can point to all the reasons why so many misunderstand our God and our Church now and forget that this is not a new problem. The Letter to the Hebrews we have just read is two thousand years old and it speaks of the same poorly framed view of God. The author says, “You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them.” Imagine an unapproachable God, surrounded by gloom and protected by fire. Imagine a God whose words are so intimidating and threatening, that you would beg to hear no more for surely they will crush you. Sadly, too many have imagined just that.
Instead, we have, “have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven.” We are far from the God frightening us from his gloomy lair. Instead, we are invited to a party where all God’s creatures are invited to the table as we will be invited to the table of the Lord n just a few minutes. A place where the love of God, held in the community of the Trinity, is broken open so that we can be showered in it; so that we can be immersed in perfect love. That is a God who attracts. Who would reject this God?
Hebrews goes on to say who will be present at this feast of love – “God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.” Yes, this God does judge. This God stands up for justice, stands with the poor and the oppressed, stands alongside the people God created. This is a God whose judges with mercy, with the sole intention and effect of loving most perfectly. And what’s more, God gave us Jesus as the mediator of this new covenant. Far from being distant, this is God who pursues us, a God who wants us and who will do anything so that we might know that we are God’s beloved. This is not a God who sits back unaware of our needs or troubles, but has sent the Son of God to walk with us so that we might know how completely our God understands us. These words of God are not filled with fear; they are the words of Jesus, words shot through with love. They are most clear, concise and beautiful words ever heard about love. Who would not want a God like this?
Finally, this mediator of a new covenant has given his life with, “the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” This is a God literally with skin in the game – a God who gave his life that we might know we are loved. And it worked. There is no time I feel small that Christ’s death does not enlarge me, no time when I feel abandoned that Christ’s death does not comfort me, no moment when I feel unloved that the cross does not remind me of how very loved I am. And that sprinkled blood is still offered today at Eucharist because the covenant is true and forever.
Who would not say yes to a God like that? Who would not want to be wanted by the creator of all the world? Who would not want to discover their beauty by discovering the beauty that authored life? Who would not want to be loved by love itself?
This is the story we have to tell. Other stories that “define” God are out there but they have nothing to do with the God of Jesus Christ. We have to tell the story of the God who loves with abandon, who will not leave us orphaned, who pursues us so that we might know we are loved – a God of intimacy and not intimidation. We have to tell the story of the God of justice in whom the poor put their trust. We have to tell the story of a God so consumed in love for us that he would die for us.
We have to tell this story to our neighbors and friends. We have to tell the story because who else will? We have to tell this story because others are telling it badly. We have to tell the story because it is the story that sets us free. We have to tell the story because it is true. We have to tell the story because it is the story of love. It is the story of our God.